Once, when she was eight, Tamarack stumbled across a snake. She and Ripple had wandered away from the other dibbuns who were frolicking and daisy chain-weaving just outside the Abbey’s main gate, and the creature had risen from the tall grass to block their return. Clutching the otter’s paw in a vice-like grip, the vixen had waited for the snake to strike. She remembered that it had smelled like Aloysius’ archives, a collection of cobwebs and dust overrun by decaying tomes piled higher than she was tall. The thing had considered them for a moment, flicking out its forked tongue. Then, with a hissing sigh, it had slithered away. It was the first time she had ever thought about her own grave.

Meeting the cold, reptilian eyes of the otters, Julian Case, Cassius, and Locria as they sat in the musty cellar, Tamarack felt that same terror gripping her. These were murderers, villains, enemies… but then what was Selendra doing with them?

“If you aren’t interested in talking…” Case let the threat hang, a noose in the suddenly-thick air. They all began to speak at once.

“We’m came from th’ Abbey–”

“Lookin’ fer adventure–”

“We wanted to see–”

“There was a great gaping hole–”

The hedgehog held up his paws and Locria rapped the butt of her pistol on the table. “One at a time, chaps.”

“Let’s start with something simpler,” Case said. “Who are you?”

The mole placed a digging claw to his brow. “Oi be Cobb.”

“Cap’n Bludd,” the kitten said, her tail and ears held high. “Saver of mousey maids an’ plunderer of abbots.”

“Noel Lingham.” The set of the weasel’s jaw did not catch her attention so much as Cassius’ raised brows. It was her turn, though.

“Tamarack–”

“Coffincreeper,” Case finished, a faint smile touching his lips. “I thought you looked familiar. You’ve certainly grown, though, haven’t you?”

“Sir?” The vixen couldn’t help her hackles rising. Case sounded almost like the Abbot, that air of knowing about him that made her fur prickle.

“Ah, forgive me. You would have been about…” He trailed off, sizing the vixen up before placing his paw a little above the table’s edge. “About so high last I saw you. Durian’s murder rather curbed my enthusiasm for graveyards. And while I’m reluctant to dispose of an old friend’s granddaughter… and a kitten who saved one of our own, I would hope you recognize the difficult position you’ve all put me in. So, tell me, young Tamarack, why should I not kill you?”

Tamarack felt her stomach drop as everybeast turned to her. Playing at leader was well and fine when they weren’t standing with one footpaw in the grave, a willing executioner ready to push them the rest of the way. Here, though? Now? She scrabbled for Cobb beneath the table and found a small part of her courage returning when he wrapped his digging claw around her paw. From the other side, Noel squeezed her arm. Even Bludd offered a roundabout sort of support in a poorly executed whisper.

“Snout to the cannons and charge, matey.”

She took what strength she could from her friends and began. Julian Case was a murderer, but she would not give him the satisfaction of hearing her voice quaver. “We came from Redwall, sir.”

“This I can see.” The hedgehog cast a glance at Selendra who shook her head. He ran his claws through the graying spikes atop his head. “I’m rather more interested in the why, what, and how, though.”

“Mr. Cobb found a tunnel when we was digging Mr. Andrew’s grave.”

“Andrew’s dead?” Selendra interrupted.

“Aye, just this afternoon, and it were the Abbot what done it. Said Mr. Andrew attacked him after admitting to killing Brother Raimun, but Bludd and Foweller saw them. It weren’t no self-defense.”

There was a collective intake of breath from the non-Abbeybeasts.

“The rotter’s getting bold,” Locria hissed.

“Well, he tried to have me killed, as well. Why Andrew, though? He’s just–”

“Were a bit of plunder what done ‘im in,” Bludd said. “Like th’ medallion Tam ‘as.”

“What medallion?”

Tamarack felt Noel’s paw tighten around her arm again as they both jumped and looked over at Cassius. It was the first the pine marten had spoken.

“It’s a cloakpin,” Noel corrected, a hint of challenge edging into his tone.

“Aye. Found it on a bunny what gone and got hisself tossed in my graveyard without a proper burial. Colm – he’s my brother – were scared half out of his hide just looking at it.” Tamarack reached into her pocket and held the cloakpin up. Locria grabbed it without preamble. “Oy!” The vixen lunged for her treasure, but Cobb and Noel held her back.

“It’s not worth it,” the weasel muttered.

“It be all roight, Miz Tam,” the mole added as the hare tossed the pin to Case and Cassius. “Oi doan’t think Miz Sel will let them keep it.”

True, the mouse had prevented their untimely demise, but she wasn’t proving to be a particularly vocal advocate for their continued existence.

“You say you found this on a body?” Case asked, pawing the pin off to Selendra.

“Aye, sir.” Tamarack tracked the pin’s progress, coiling herself up to spring for it at the next possible chance. It was her only solid link to Colm, to the graveyard, to home down here. She wouldn’t let them steal it without a fight. “The Abbot weren’t none too happy when he found out, neither.”

“Carter knows that you have this? Fates!” The panic in the hedgehog’s voice was enough to draw her attention to him. He was glaring at Selendra. “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”

“I didn’t know,” the mousemaid countered, bristling. “I’ve been following the lead on Tompkins and Delores to protect that one.” She jerked a claw at Noel, and Tamarack felt the weasel stiffen beside her. Protect him from what? “Merritt’s the one who had her deliver the package to Raimun.”

“Merritt let a flipping kit… well no wonder Raimun’s tripped off to meet his bally maker. I told you we couldn’t trust the blighter, Case. Too busy dabbing it up by half!”

“Merritt’s done us far more good than–”

“Always defending that ferret, Sel,” Locria scoffed, crossing her arms. “You’ll make Berend jealous.”

“Will you both–”

“Shut up.” Cassius might well have shouted for the reaction those two simple words produced. The table fell silent, and Tamarack took advantage of the distraction to snatch the cloakpin from Selendra’s lax grip. Stuffing it back in her pocket, the vixen glanced over at Cassius and felt her own paws freeze. There was something altogether hungry about his face, like a pike on the prowl. This beast was a predator. “Seems t’ me our guests ‘ave quite a lot o’ information they shouldn’t, a quality the likes o’ us can appreciate. Question is: Can we trust ’em?”

“Don’t even think about it, Cassius,” Selendra growled. “They don’t know what’s going on.”

“No, but I’d sure as shooting like to!” Tamarack laid her ears back and cringed. That had come out much louder than she’d intended.

“Me, too!” Bludd chimed. The vixen smiled at the kitten and received a grin in return. When had the fuzzy tidal wave of destruction become reliable? After saving Selendra? She’d have to ask about that if they didn’t get their heads chopped off.

Noel nodded. “Only seems fair if you’re going to kill us all anyway.”

“Listen here,” the vixen continued, “we been running around for three days trying to figure out why a pin would scare my big brother. We been threatened, lied to, and turned around in circles just trying to fit everything together. Two beasts have been murdered inside the Abbey in as many days, two dozen more in the last season, and now we find a pair of murderers sitting pretty as you li–”

Locria cut the rant short, smashing her pistol across Tamarack’s muzzle. The vixen screeched and fell back as the bench she and the others had been sitting on toppled. Eyes watering and the sharp tang of blood in her mouth, she dragged herself up to avoid one of the guard otter who was charging Noel.

The weasel held Locria in a headlock while Cobb grappled with the other otter. Selendra only just had hold of Bludd, the kitten thrashing like a five-limbed octopus in her arms.

“Sto-guck!” The vixen choked. Everything smelled like blood. She knew it was just in her mouth, but the first otter had reached Noel. “Stop! Leave him–”

Bang!

Tamarack rubbed away her tears and panic, focusing on the cloud of smoke that had begun to wrap itself around Case’s arm. The hedgehog’s pistol was pointed straight out toward the far wall.

“I’m glad to have your attention. Locria, quit struggling, be quiet, and if you even think about hitting an ignorant kit without permission again, I will personally shoot you with your own gun. Do I make myself clear?”

“But she–”

“I’m sorry, Locria?” There was that same sweet smile the Abbot wore. Tamarack shuddered and coughed, spitting out a tooth. She wiped her maw with the back of her paw and winced. She’d lost most of her baby teeth to Colm’s rough housing, but this took the gilded coffin in terms of pain.

“You’ve been clarity itself, sah.” Locria sighed.

The weasel released her after a wary moment, and the otter fighting Cobb backed away to join his companion. Bludd landed a shallow scratch on Selendra’s arm and hissed as the mouse let go. Selendra probably hadn’t deserved that… not entirely. Maybe just a bit.

“Now that we’ve all calmed down,” Case continued, holstering his pistol, “why don’t we sit?”

“You’m keep your paws off Miz Tam,” Cobb warned with a more terrifying glower than Tamarack would have thought he possessed. She laid a paw on his shovel-like digging claws as they sat down, all too aware of the peculiar reversal.

“I’m fine, Mr. Cobb. Mumma’s done me worse with one of her birchings.” A little lie never hurt now and again.

“I promise no more unexpected violence.”

“And what about the expected sort?” Noel growled.

Tamarack felt herself bristling again as Case grinned at them, too benign for sincerity. “Hopefully, it won’t come to that. I think we need to clear up a few things, though. I am not a murderer, and neither is Cassius. Well… not the murder you’re thinking of, anyway. It’s a lie that Carter started.”

“Then who did it?” Noel asked while Tamarack nursed her snout.

“I suspect Carter and whoever his cronies were at the time. That pin you found, it marks his inner circle. Or, a circle that he’s taken over, anyway.”

“The Society o’ Martin,” Cassius drawled, throwing his arms wide. “Sworn defenders o’ Mossflower country and bent on the eradication o’ vermin just like you and me. They run Redwall, and Case didn’t like that so much. Ain’t ‘e a proper gent?”

“So, then…” Tamarack said, leaning in as the missing pieces slotted into place. “Abbot Carter murdered your family, Mr. Case, and said it was you, so that he’d become abbot instead?”

“A gold coin for the lass!” Cassius exclaimed, with a mock-clap. The vixen would have sneered at him if she hadn’t known that it would hurt like a pistol to the face. She settled for a glare and let Noel sneer for her. The marten offered a smirk in return, but the expression dissolved into something uglier a moment later, all fangs and slitted yellow eyes. “We been workin’ t’ bring that bloody prater down ever since. And now we ‘ave you lovelies. Selendra tells us the kitty saved ‘er life. The rest o’ you, though…”

“They’re me crew,” Bludd said, her voice sounding smaller, for once fitting her tiny frame. It was unnatural.

Tamarack left off her staring at Cassius. Bludd’s shoulders were tensed, her tail bottle-brushing behind her. The vixen reached across Noel and grabbed the kitten’s paw. A quick flick of her eyes and a squeeze were enough. Bludd had given her support when Tamarack had needed it most, she would do the same.

“Beg pardon?”

“I trusts me crew, and ye should, too,” the kitten boomed, falling into fine captain form. “That’s Bosun Tam, that is, Cobb th’ Gobb, an’ Lieutenant McNoel. A cap’n never launches into a new venture without ‘er crew!”

“I think they’ll be all right, Cassius,” Selendra agreed, grimacing as she touched a paw to her bandaged ear. “They already know about the tunnel, and there’s only so much information Sebastian and Flint can gather now that I’ve gone. You all have to promise to keep this a secret, though. We aren’t ready to take down Carter yet because–”

“Because he’s the Abbot,” Noel concluded, “and you’re just murderers.”

“Precisely,” Case said. “So, the question becomes: Will you help us?”

“What if we say no?” Tamarack put in.

The hedgehog shrugged. “Then we discuss the expected sort of violence, my dear.”

“Right…” A quick glance to confirm that dying was not on the preferred list of activities this evening. “I suppose we’ll be helping you, sir.”

“Splendid.”

As he leaned back and folded his paws in his lap, Tamarack swore she saw a flicker of forked tongue. Whatever else he was, the vixen suspected they’d avoided Julian Case’s fangs by a hairsbreadth.

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Grave Matters

June 17, 2011

Death had never been an enemy. It was a friend who brought fish to their larder, linens to their table, and extra coin to their purses. Her dearest confidants lay amongst the mossy headstones and sun-flecked patches of soil. Death was not her enemy, but somehow they had begun to grow apart. It was stealing away more and more beasts, good beasts who did not yet belong in one of Papa’s wooden boxes… or in an unwilling earth.

“Tam, watch the–”

“Miz Tam!”

Colm swore and Tamarack yelped as the lip of the grave collapsed, taking her with it into the chest-deep hole. She felt her slick shovel thwack something, and then Colm’s arms were about her waist, arresting her plunge into the brown sludge lining the bottom of the grave. The vixen frowned at Cobb as the mole pressed a paw to what was surely a shovel-shaped lump on his forehead.

“Martin’s stripy pants, Tam!” Colm snarled, setting her down before shoving her into the slimy wall. “I told you to stay back.”

“I was trying to shore it up!”

“You sure done something, mudface.”

“Toady-eyed scragg–”

“Miz Tam,” Cobb said, “Oi think… maybe it would be better if we’m took it in turns to work on th’ grave. Th’ earth’s being roight temperamental.”

All around, Tamarack could see the evidence of last night’s storms. The trees, still blooming in pink, white, and lavender buds, had scattered their petals across the graveyard – a colorful and fragrant carpet to greet the mourners. The rain had washed clean the markers and warrior’s monument, and puddles gathered in the trenches around the newer plots. Her boots had been caked with mud and twigs even before they’d started digging.

“Mr. Cobb’s got a point.”

“Aye.” The older fox rubbed his snout leaving a long brown streak across his russet fur. “Aye… Fate’s take it. Go on and check with Clacher about Raimun’s marker, then. It’s an hour past due, and it’ll be my own grave I’m digging here if there’s a problem.”

“I can dig instead.” She knew she’d said it too quickly when Colm’s exasperation turned to a sneer. It was well enough for him to stand there and make faces; he didn’t have to face the old badger.

Clacher was under the disturbing notion that his days as a roving warrior entitled him to a fox-tail motif in his workshop. Every time the vixen had entered his establishment in the past, the stonemason would stroke his various conquests, all the time fixing her with his beady gaze.

“Please…?”

The cruelest big brother in the world had spoken. “Get, Tamarack.”

“Oi’d be happy to go with her, if’n that be all right, Zir Colm.” Tamarack flashed Cobb a bright grin and latched on to his sticky arm.

“Right gentlebeast, Mr. Cobb is! More than I can say for some.”

“Fine. Just go. And be back soon. We still got the flowers to take care of.”

She waved away the command as Cobb boosted her out of the grave and followed. “Right.”

“Oy, mudface.”

Tamarack felt a tug on her tail and turned back to kick mud in his face to see how he liked it. The worry stretching Colm’s features into a grimace stayed her footpaw, though. “What is it?”

“You be careful, you hear? I… you been worrying beasts something fierce running around these days asking questions about things you ain’t supposed to. You promise me you’ll watch out.”

“Watch out for what, zir?”

“Abbot Carter,” Tamarack answered, staring hard at her brother. He turned his eyes to the mud and worms beneath him. Did Colm know about them having the cloakpin, then?

“You just watch out,” Colm mumbled, driving his shovel into the bottom of the grave in a half-hearted way that hurt Tamarack more than his punches and shoves. “Both of you.”

Cobb looked to her, but the vixen could only shake her head. Whatever this was, they needed to find out soon. Colm never told her to be careful, but if it was true about Grandpa Durian being murdered because of something like the cloakpin…

“Come on, Mr. Cobb, we can see Ms. Saskia first,” she said as they trekked toward the gate. “And then – Mr. Noel!”

The vixen raced to greet the weasel, forgetting the mud that covered her face and arms as she grinned at the campball coach. “All right, Mr. Noel?”

“Oh… Tamarack.” He favored her with a pensive smile as a pleasant mixture of grass, sweat, and tobacco tickled her nose. A touch of honey lingered about him, as well – Isidore’s influence, no doubt. “Aye, I’m all right. You?”

“Right as can be, sir! I’m sorry I missed your games last night, but I was…” She trailed off, glancing back as Cobb joined them. The mole and weasel exchanged a nod. “I was busy.”

“Shame about Raimun.” Noel picked at the rust on the gate.

“Murder always is, sir.”

“Miz Tam, may Oi speak to you?” She felt a bit guilty at the fear in the mole’s voice, but this was different. This was Noel.

“Isidore didn’t think it was a natural death either.”

This time she did look to Cobb for approval. The mole sighed, but he stepped forward, closing their circle to unwelcome listeners. “There’s something else: I delivered a package to him not two hours afore they found his body. And it were something I don’t think him or no beast in the Abbey were meant to have.”

“What was it?”

For the first time since they’d begun, Tamarack found herself eyeing Noel, sizing him up. Shouting about the pins to everybeast had gotten them a thorough and rather terrifying rebuke. Still, the fact stood that this was Noel, a beast who had brought all of the Abbey kits together again, had given her a reason to step out of the graveyard apart from mischief and errands.

“I can’t tell you everything, Mr. Noel. I promised I wouldn’t. But I can tell you what the Abbot saw.”

Noel’s eyes widened. “The Abbot saw what you had.”

“Aye. And I’m downright scared it had something to do with Brother Raimun’s death. The Abbot sounded… he didn’t tell me off, but something weren’t right about the way he was acting. He saw part of the title of a pamphlet I was taking to Brother Raimun. Just a name: Julian Case.”

“Who’s that?”

“I don’t know. I was hoping Ms. Saskia might. We were going to go talk to her. I’d ask the Abbot, but…”

“But,” the weasel agreed.

“Do you know where she might be?”

“‘Fraid not. Last I saw of her was at the festival…though she does seem to be friendly with Aloysius. Now it’s my turn to ask: have you seen Bludd?”

“Not since last noight when she’m scurried off loik a little spoider,” Cobb replied. Tamarack nodded her agreement.

“Ms. Saskia might know, though! Why don’t we go see her together?”

“If that’s all right with ye, Cobb…” The weasel’s eyes flicked to the mole.

He shifted a bit. “Whatever Miz Tam wants.”

“Right, then!” Tamarack waited for Noel to step back before opening the gate and ushering Cobb through. The mole, weasel, and vixen stood for only a moment before Tamarack linked an arm with each and began leading them toward the gatehouse. If all else failed, that was around about where Merritt’s cart was, and the ferret would know where to find the wayward hare.

They talked of inconsequential things as they went: campball, the new songs that had played at the festival, and the stonemason’s terrible taste in decor. It seemed important, though, these meaningless words. More and more, Tamarack had noticed their disappearance from her usual conversation. She and Cobb spoke of the pins, mysteries, and murder. Exciting, but she missed speaking of things that did not matter.

“Martin’s on our side,” Noel said as they approached the archives to see Saskia emerging.

Tamarack unhooked herself from the older beasts and reached a paw up to wave. “Ms. Saskia!”

The hare hesitated for a moment, her eyes fixed on something beyond the trio, then she nodded and returned the wave. “Tamarack, I’d wondered where you’d got to last night.” She glanced at the males.

“Mr. Cobb knows about the pins, and I trust Mr. Noel.”

“Were you able to read Merritt’s book?”

“Aye, a bit. He, er… caught me afore I could get much into it. Sorry.” She lowered her ears and glanced away. The hare sighed. “I did see something, though! He has a bunch of names of beasts living in the Abbey. Some of them are Brothers and Sisters, but most are just beasts like me and Mr. Cobb. I remember Mr. Rigg, Sister Saffron, and Mr. Trioson were there. But it didn’t look like a ledger for beasts what owe him… just little squiggly lines next to the names. I’m sorry.”

“Well, you’ve gotten farther than I ‘ave,” Saskia admitted.

Cobb’s digging claw felt heavy on her shoulder. “Oi doan’t think you’m should be sneakin’ looks at things loike that. Even if it’s for Miz Saskia. You’m could of gotten in a lot of trouble.”

“But she didn’t. And it’s done.”

The vixen shrugged the mole off. “It’s fine, Mr. Cobb.”

“There’s less to say about your cloakpin, I’m afraid,” Saskia continued. “I couldn’t find anything like it in my books. I ‘ave more back at the shop, but your Abbot ‘as decided to trap me ‘ere.”

“He’s not my Abbot,” Noel interjected.

“Fair enough.”

Tamarack chewed her lip. “Well, have you heard of a beast called Julian Case, then?”

Saskia blinked, then cocked her head to one side. “Of course I ‘ave. I wouldn’t expect a gel like you to, but ‘ave the pair of you been living under a rock?” She addressed this to Cobb and Noel.

The mole wilted, and the weasel hunched his shoulders, bringing his arms up to cross over his chest. “I’m… sure Ms. Saskia didn’t mean nothing by that,” the vixen said. “Right?”

Seeming to realize the misstep, the hare backpedaled. “Ah, right. I print papers for a living. I forget not everybeast reads them. Case was around a few seasons ago, set to take over the Abbey from old Abbot Simon. But then ‘e murdered ‘is own family with the ‘elp of some marten named Cassius. Simon banished the pair of them, and Carter took over. We sold rather a lot of papers when that was ‘appening.”

“Cassius?”

Tamarack turned with the others to look at Noel. The weasel’s arms had fallen to his sides, and his brow was furrowed so deeply, it looked like it would take a hot iron to smooth it once more. She reached out and grasped his paw, shaking him from his reverie.

“Mr. Noel, what’s wrong?”

“That can’t be right. Cassius ran a gang. Why was he at Redwall?”

“Planning th’ murder with Zir Case?” Cobb suggested.

The quartet fell into an uneasy silence. Tamarack tried to think of something to say to ease the air of consternation about Noel, but she was trying to fit together this new information herself. Why would a pamphlet about Julian Case cause so much trouble if the story had been in the papers? How did the pins fit in? And now there was Cassius, a murderous ex-gang leader to contend with.

This time, Cobb’s digging claw on her back was welcomed, as were his gentle suggestions. “Oi think Miz Tam and Oi should get back to work. Th’ funeral…”

Saskia and Noel both nodded.

“Thanks for your help, Ms. Saskia. You too, Mr. Noel. If I find out anything else about what’s going on, I’ll… I’ll let you know.”

This time, she let Cobb lead them away.


Preparing for Raimun’s burial took the rest of the morning as the Coffincreepers folded Cobb into the routine of a full-service funeral. Mumma and Ida wove wreaths of lily, asphodel, amaranth, and marigold in the kitchen while Papa cleaned and shrouded the body in his workshop. Tamarack lost herself in running messages in Grannie’s crisp script to the bell ringer, the cooks, and the beasts who would speak at the service. Colm and Cobb finished digging the grave, laid the marker, and filled in the worst puddles surrounding the plot. Just before tea, they all gathered on the porch to take turns in the bathtub, pulling on starched black suits and dresses after. Cobb practically swam in one of Papa’s old suits, the slacks too long by a paw-length, and the jacket hanging off his frame like tar.

“We’ll see you have something proper for next time,” Ida assured, perching a hat atop the mole’s head.

Tamarack felt as ill-fitted to her own costume with the high collar chaffing at the fur of her neck. They were all too clean. This wasn’t life, and it certainly wasn’t death. Redwall demanded this picture, though. Their art reflected teary ladies and somber gentlebeasts in black too well to dismiss. Their art also reflected more interesting things, but many of the illustrations in Merritt’s pamphlets seemed destined to stay just that.

“Quit grinning like a punch-drunk rabbit,” Colm hissed in her ear.

The vixen reformed her face to a thoughtful grimace, greeting the last of the mourners. “Brother Aloysius, I’m glad you and your family could make it.”

The bat looked more harried in the sunshine – no shadows to hide the wrinkles on his young face. “Raimun was a good friend to me. I feel his loss keenly in my heart, my heart.”

Many beasts spoke, each sharing the piece they held of Raimun’s life before laying it with a lily upon the dark coffin. Even the most unlikely had something to say.

“Showed me how to make hats from paper when I was a kit. Never forgot… and never learned another ruddy foldin’ trick neither,” Skipper admitted when it came to his turn, and suddenly, they were allowed to smile again.

“I remember he told me a story about Martin and Gonff bein’ chased by an irate badgermum with a broom,” Noel told them with a grin. “He said he thought it might help me understand Sister Agnes better.”

Foweller’s tribute was rather more solemn. He did not say anything, merely saluted the coffin before tottering back to stand among the dark-clothed ranks.

“My children,” the Abbot said when the last of Raimun’s friends and acquaintances had finished, “we all mourn the passing of one of the cornerstones of our Abbey and Order. Raimun was a good and kind beast. His pawsteps will resonate in our hearts and in these walls forever.”

Tamarack let her eyes drift over the crowd of mourners as the Abbot rambled on about his close, personal kinship with Raimun. Saskia stood with Merritt, both of them stiff, as if uncertain of their roles on such an occasion. A flash of teeth caught her attention, and she refocused on Brother Tompkins. The squirrel was glaring daggers laced with poison, tipped with barbs at the old otter. She elbowed Cobb’s side and motioned with her muzzle.

“He looks roight fierce,” the mole muttered. She could only nod as Colm fixed them with a reproachful scowl. Tompkins looked like he was about ready to take a shovel to the Abbot’s face.

“Now.” Abbot Carter clapped his paws. “Brother Aloysius has prepared something for the passing bells.”

Tamarack shifted her gaze to the bat as he shuffled toward the coffin, laying a claw upon it for support.

“There are not many who could befriend a bat. Not many who would try, who would wait to retire at dawn after a day’s full work simply to share a conversation, conversation.” He looked so frail with his large ears pinned back. “I did not start this life as a scholar, but Raimun taught me how to live as one, live as one. How to find strength in that place between one’s body and mind. I thought we would grow old together, recording the stories of this wondrous place. Such are the dreams of children, of children. This is for Raimun.”

The Abbey bell began to sound as the bat spoke.

“Suns that set as seasons turn,
Flowers grow and wither yet.
Who can say what flame may burn,
Friends that we have known and met.
Look into the young ones’ eyes,
See the winter turn to spring,
Across the quiet eternal lake,
Ripples spread-”

Aloysius’ voice hitched, but he collected himself after a pause and deep breath.

“Ripples spreading in a ring.”

Tamarack found her paws intertwining with Cobb’s and Colm’s as they stood waiting for the bell to ring out each season of Raimun’s life. The ripples had begun with the cloakpin – a small stone cast into dangerous waters. She would not allow them to fade.

Gilt By Association

June 4, 2011

“Mr. Cobb, are you kicking me?” Tamarack asked as she sat down across from the mole, her plate overflowing with rhubarb pie, pasties, fish, and spring salad. Something had knocked her leg beneath the table, and Colm was already off to fetch his own food.

The mole dropped a forkful of carrot casserole on his lap as his eyes widened. “No, Miz Tam. Oi would never do that.”

“Well, if it ain’t you, then I got a right friendly spider pulling at my belt just now.”

At Cobb’s frown, the vixen grabbed the paw she could see, now groping along the bench, and jerked upward.

Yeowch! Whatcher go an’ do that fer, ye blasted landlubber?” The owner of the paw appeared, wriggling and hissing. She yanked herself free to stem the blood dribbling from her nose.

“Are you all roight, Miz Kitty?” Cobb passed the young wildcat his napkin.

“Why’re you hiding under the table, Bludd?” Tamarack snorted. “Not to mention punching me like I’m some corpsified beast what don’t care no more.”

“I was treasure-huntin’, matey,” the kitten babbled around the white-now-red-spotted napkin. “Saw me a bit o’ treasure an’ ‘ad at it. Jist an ‘onest freebooter plyin’ ‘er trade.”

“Treasure?” The only treasure she had was… “Bludd! You’re not allowed to steal that. Not never, you hear?”

Bludd wilted. “C’mon, mate, didn’t mean nothin’ by it.”

That had sounded rather harsh. Bludd was good for a laugh now and again. “Sorry, Bludd. Just getting a bit tetchy. Ain’t had a chance to fill up the belly proper, aye? Oh, and this here fellow’s Mr. Cobb. He’s working for my family.”

“So, they’ve sentenced ye t’ th’ wheel an’ chain, matey? Bad luck after ‘scapin’ a dungeon.”

“You’ve met before, have you?”

“Not properly, Miz Tam. She’m were… excited ’bout moi being locked in th’ Abbey dungeon. Oi thought she’m runned off.”

Bludd placed a paw over her heart. “Asked ‘im t’ join me crew. Almost! But pinchin’ veggibles ain’t part o’ th’ pirate code.”

“Right, well, Mr. Cobb, this is Bludd. She sleeps in the graveyard sometimes.”

“Doan’t it get cold in th’ noight?”

“Dead beasts tell no tales,” the kitten explained, tapping her bloody nose.

“And they got the best sort of loot: the kind as ain’t nobeast using no more.”

“Miz Tam.” Cobb’s mouth flattened into a grimace.

“Mumma says it’ll stick if you make funny faces like that, Mr. Cobb.”

By this time, Bludd’s paw had crept across the table and appropriated a mushroom pasty from Tamarack’s plate. It disappeared beneath the napkin. “Is that where ye got that there silver medallion in yer pocket, matey?”

“Not… quite.” Tamarack exchanged a glance with Cobb as she pulled the cloakpin from her pocket and showed it to Bludd beneath the edge of the table. The vixen was careful to hold on tight. “There’s been some trouble, and we found this around about where it started.”

“Eh? Is Brother Tompkins in trouble?”

“Brother Tompkins?” Tamarack pocketed the cloakpin and slapped Bludd’s paw before the kitten could steal another pasty. “Go get your own. And what do you mean Brother Tompkins?”

“Well,’s like th’ one he’s got, innit? Can’t blame an ‘onest freebooter fer lookin’, can ye? No, says I,” the wildcat grumbled, claws reaching toward Cobb’s plate. The mole slid it to the right, and Bludd scowled at him. For a moment, Tamarack thought he might actually stick his tongue out at the little fiend, but he resisted the temptation and settled for a frown.

“Where did you see it?” the fox asked. “Where exactly?”

“Don’ rightly recall.” Bludd crossed her arms and turned her nose up. “Might do with a bit o’ skilly an’ duff, though.”

“Bludd, I–” Before she could finish, Tamarack caught sight of Merritt’s cart. The ferret was gone. “Cluny take the Long Patrol! Here, Bludd, you can have my plate. All the skilly and duff you can eat. Mr. Cobb, I need you to ask her proper about the other pin while I go take care of something.”

“What? But, Miz Tam… Oi’m not s’posed to be alo–”

“Mumma and Papa and Grannie are just over there. You’ll be fine.” She stood as Bludd’s furry tentacles latched onto her plate and drew it in. Dinner would have to wait.

“But…”

“We’re in this together, Mr. Cobb… ain’t we? I need you to do this for me.”

The mole hung his head. “Oi’ll troi, Miz Tam.”

“Cobb th’ Gob, ‘s what I’ll call ye!” Tamarack heard Bludd announce. She didn’t need to look back to know that the mole was staring after her.

Sorry, Mr. Cobb.


The aroma of scholars and scoundrels mixed with grass, wood smoke, and fish as Tamarack crouched behind Merritt’s cart. A quick walk of her claws along one of the boxes brought her to the edge, but she paused for a moment, chewing her lip. It was just a book. This would bring them one step closer to figuring out the pin and helping Colm, whether he wanted it or not. Cobb would deal with Bludd and the second pin, and they’d be two steps closer to the answer.

Merritt wouldn’t mind her looking. Books didn’t mean anything, not really. Not really at all…

Think of Colm. This is for Colm… and for Ms. Saskia, too. The hare was nice enough for a stuffy sort of beast – a bit like Aloysius. She deserved to know a few of Merritt’s secrets, if only to have something to niggle him with when business was slow. Right.

The vixen pulled herself up and plunged her snout into the box, letting her whiskers drift across the pamphlets, loose papers, and tomes. A bit of digging, switching boxes, and holding likely suspects up to the moonlight revealed the book in question: red with gold gilt… no title. She managed to scan the first page before a paw landed on her shoulder. She’d have to talk to Foweller about living up to one’s lookout duties later, possibly emphasizing with a well-placed shovel to his thick head.

“Tamarack.” Merritt managed the precise cadence Mumma used when she was about to tan Tamarack’s hide.

“Well, hello there, Mr. Merritt. Enjoying the festival?” The vixen turned to face the ferret, the sharp white points of her teeth stitching a crooked grin across her maw.

He smiled back, his claws digging into her flesh before he released and pointed at the book. “What are you doing with that, Ms. Tamarack?”

“Reading.”

“You know that’s mine, yes?” There was the sweetest uptick in his voice at the end, like honey laced with nightshade.

“Aye, sir. I…” She couldn’t tell on Saskia, not when she was trusting the hare to keep her own secrets. “I was looking for more of the pamphlets you sold me today. Right good they were.”

“I see.” One of the ferret’s eyebrows rose a full claw-length.

Her ears fell back, and she curled her tail between her legs. He didn’t sound angry, and that was worse. “I’m awful sorry. Didn’t mean no harm, but… Why do you got the names of a dozen Abbeybeasts in your book, Mr. Merritt? It don’t look like Mumma’s ledger.”

Merritt considered her for a moment. “Why do you and your brother always have spare coin lying about, I wonder, Ms. Tamarack?” When she did not answer, he favored her with a conspiratorial wink. “We, all of us, have our mysteries. In any case,” he continued, snatching the book out of her paws and snapping it shut, “how does this sound? I’ll overlook this incident and Saskia sending out kits to do her meddling if you’ll deliver a package for me.”

“I never said–”

“You never had to, my dear.” Waving his paw for her to follow, the ferret led the vixen to another box, this one locked. In a trice, he had the thing open. Tossing the book in, Merritt pulled out a large brown envelope. “Do you know who Brother Raimun is?”

“Aye.” She took the envelope and opened it before he could tell her not to.

JULIAN CASE:
a
True Relation
of the
Unjust, Cruel
and
Barbarous Proceedings
at
Redwall Abbey.


By a Scrupulous Fieldmouse with Scruples Enough.

It sounded like something Aloysius would write. She furrowed her brow, but held her silence. Merritt was proving to be about as forthcoming as a scholar with a bad case of the riddles; she’d get nothing out of him. Raimun, though…

“I would ask that you be discreet about this delivery, Ms. Tamarack,” the ferret added as he dug through his box once more, pulling out a small woven bag before shutting and locking the lid. Tamarack wrinkled her nose at the pungent odor of walnuts as Merritt swung the strap over his shoulder. “If you’re very good about it, I might even give you a treat.”

“I don’t like walnuts, sir.”

“Hmm? Oh.” A sliver of fang appeared as he glanced down at the bag. “That’s not the sort of treat I was thinking of… Saskia might like that, though. I can never tell.” And with this cryptic pronouncement, the ferret slithered away. Tamarack followed him with her eyes as he snaked around drunken revelers and toward the main Abbey building.

She had only managed a small glimpse of the book. Would it be enough for Saskia? Tamarack narrowed her eyes. ‘Mysteries’ my shovel. He hadn’t said she needed to be quick about the delivery of the package, just ‘discreet’. And what cunning creature like Merritt would mind a lass nosing about where he, himself, was concerned? He had slinked toward the Abbey with the air of a cat left to guard the cream… most unusual.

Tucking the envelope beneath her arm, the vixen struck out toward her next minor mystery. Saskia would need good information on Merritt before she would help, no doubt, and Raimun might be in the main building.

Getting there was half the battle, though. Tamarack entered the obstacle course of the festival grounds in just five paces. She dodged past staggering dancers, shrugged off the taunts of lesser beasts who wouldn’t know a how to run a race if the instructions were painted along their legs, and traversed the belly of a badger who had passed out in front of the pathway. At last, her goal came into sight: the door to the main building. She stopped a fox-length short, attention drawn to a skinny otter hunched by the doorway.

Ripple.

He hadn’t heard her, his gaze fixed on a group of hares taking it in turns to show off their jumping prowess by the desserts table.

His legs… The otter’s eyes were bright as he watched the hares, but she could see he was leaning heavily on the wall, almost using his rudder as a prop.

“Rip?”

He turned, and when he saw her, his maw split into that lopsided grin he always wore – the one that made him look like Skipper. “Tam! Where have ye been? I been lookin’ for ye the whole festival. Remy’s been thumbin’ her snout at me all night. We got to show her how a pair of mateys really win a race!” The otter stood straight and loped over to her, his gait easy and familiar as he stopped to slap her on the back. “Hah! I’ll be aimin’ for the gold of course, but yer welcome to try for silver. Or ought I to say, ‘Slowver’?”

Before he could scamper away, Tamarack dropped Merritt’s envelope and wrapped her arms around Ripple’s neck. “I’m sorry, Rip! I didn’t mean to… I’m sorry.”

“What’re ye goin’ all weepy for, Tam?” Ripple laughed. “Only but an accident. Right as ye like now. C’mon, or we’ll miss the start of–”

“Uh…”

Tamarack blinked. The Ripple giggling beside her dissolved into a Ripple goggling at her from the side of the building. He worked his jaw up and down twice, then snapped it shut.

“How you doing, Rip?” She offered a small smile and started to wave.

The otter was already hobbling away, though; every stumble and awkward hop stung like a hornet. Tamarack hurried into the main building, slamming the door shut behind her.

He had seen her. She had finally seen him. And he hadn’t yelled at her, hadn’t screamed. There had been so much screaming that day. Ripple, her, Rigg, Skip…

But he didn’t look mad. The vixen felt the tightness in her chest loosen. He didn’t shout none, or call for Skipper. He’d simply gaped like a landed fish. Coming to think on it, he’d always had a bit of trout about the maw. A smile tugged at her whiskers as Tamarack began marching along the corridor toward the Great Hall. Ripple had just been busy. He wasn’t running away. He wouldn’t run away from her. Couldn’t run away anymore…

Merritt. She needed to focus on Merritt now. But where had he gone? The vixen scratched her ear as she looked around. Two seasons was a long time to go without stepping paw in a building. In the dormitories?

“Tamarack, child, what are you doing here?”

Tamarack whirled about, clutching Merritt’s envelope to her chest as she watched the Abbot pad forward. His sandals hissed softly along the floor.

“I was looking for… for Brother Raimun, Father.”

“Who let you in, child?” There was no accusation in his voice, no challenge, but she could feel the rebuke all the same.

“I’m sorry, Father. Mist-er… Brother Aloysius and Brother Andrew asked me to deliver this here package to him.” She nearly bit her tongue as she tried to clamp down on the lie. Of all the beasts she could name… the bookworm and the mouse who jumped at his own shadow?

The Abbot looked about as incredulous as she felt. “And what would Brothers Aloysius and Andrew wish to deliver to Brother Raimun?”

In for a copper, in for a gold. “A… recipe. Aye! A recipe. Brother Andrew’s a cook, and Brother Aloysius is… It’s an historical recipe, Father. Brother Aloysius found it in his archives and knew… knew Brother Raimun would want to see it right away because… he likes food.”

“I like food,” the otter said, a smile sharper than broken glass cut across his muzzle. “Come, child, let me see this recipe.” He advanced, and Tamarack retreated, matching his stride.

“It’s a secret, Father.”

“There are no secrets in my Abbey.”

“I mean it’s a surprise, sir! For… for after the festival.” She’d run out of room to back up, her tail brushing the wall. “Wouldn’t want to spoil a surprise.”

He still wore the smile, but it was no longer so dangerous. It had been a trick of the light, an odd reflection off the windows. “Ah, a surprise. It would be so very unfortunate to spoil a surprise.”

“That’s right, Father. That’s right.” The guard hairs along the nape of her neck lowered. The Abbot was a kind beast. He was only curious, like her. “You’ll find out soon enough, I reckon.”

“Could you not give me a hint, though, child? A small sampling? I must confess that, while I enjoy them, the ‘surprise’ of these terrible murders have rather dulled my taste for the unexpected.”

As she watched, it seemed to Tamarack that the horrors of the past season began to etch themselves into every line upon the the Abbot’s brow. The otter slumped before her, his shoulders carrying a great, invisible weight. His whiskers drooped, and his eyes fell. Such sad eyes. For all his seasons, he looked to Tamarack like a kit, lost and alone.

“I’m sorry, Father, I–”

“Tamarack?”

The vixen and otter both started, the envelope dropping between them with a light smack.

She dove for it, but before she could do more than place her paw on the brown paper, the Abbot’s sandal had pinned her in place.

“A very interesting recipe, then, this ‘Julian Case’?” Tamarack looked down. Part of the cover page for the pamphlet was peeking out.

“Y-yes, sir.” All of the care had vanished from his face as she struggled to retract her paw. “You’re hurting me, Father. Sir. Please!”

“Ah.” He removed his sandal, and the vixen scooped up the envelope, wincing as she licked her crushed claws. “Brother Andrew, young Tamarack was just speaking of you.”

Hellgates.

Tamarack watched the mouse’s tail twitch as he scurried toward them, his bloodshot eyes fixed on her. “Have you found out more since last night?”

“What were you and young Tamarack up to last night, Brother Andrew?”

“We–”

“Brother Andrew!” Tamarack reached out and grasped his paw, tugging him back toward the entrance of the building. “I just found something out. Come on, we need to ask Brother Raimun about it.”

“Eh? But…”

“Run along, Brother Andrew,” the Abbot advised. “I’ll find out soon enough. Don’t you reckon, Tamarack?”

The vixen fled with the mouse in tow, the Abbot’s kindly chuckle chasing them down the corridor.

Dead Not Sleeping

May 23, 2011

It was a fact that Grannie slept like one of the daisy-pushers inhabiting the Abbey graveyard. That didn’t mean she was deaf, though.

“Shh!” Tamarack held a claw to her lips before closing the shutter on her lantern and kneeling beside the bed. “I need your help, Mr. Cobb.”

“What toime is it, Miz Tam?” She could feel the mole shift, his whiskers twitching against her arm. “Oi’m gurtly toi–”

The vixen wrapped her paws around his muzzle and leaned in to whisper. “It’s important. We can’t wake nobeast, or we’ll get in trouble. Please, Mr. Cobb, there ain’t nobeast but you as can help. Something strange is going on, and it’s got Colm scared half out of that half-wit he’s got knocking around his head.”

Cobb nodded, and Tamarack released him to pick up the lantern. She opened the shutter once more, the faint beam of candlelight illuminating the bedtime shadow puppets that hid in the bookshelves, corners, and closets of even the dullest rooms. As she turned, the flame’s glow revealed the stacks of spare coffins lining the walls, and the trinkets scattered about the floor. They made navigating the room a treacherous journey for footclaw and shin alike; it was a wonder Grannie hadn’t tripped and broken her neck yet.

Tamarack felt Cobb’s digging claw on her shoulder. Time for doing, not thinking.

Three tolls of the Abbey bells covered the squeak of the hinges as the pair stole out of the room and into the moonlit corridor. They made their way toward the kitchen, then out the back door into the graveyard. The vixen snatched her shovel from the porch as they went.

“Now where was it?” Tamarack eyed the grave markers as her lantern revealed each name – friends unmet, but ever willing to point her in the right direction. “Across from Ms. Julep and Mr. Reuben?”

“What’s this all about, then, Miz T–”

“Hold these.” Tamarack tossed the shovel and lantern to the mole before crouching and setting her snout to the ground. She heard him fumbling for a firm grip on each item and bit down on a chuckle. He was better at catching than most moles, at least. He was also better at being caught… which didn’t bode well for their venture. They’d carve that epitaph if, and only if, it came time for that, though. “It was around here….” A perfume of mint beckoned from the north. “Hah! Come on, Mr. Cobb.” Keeping their heads and voices low, Tamarack and Cobb crept around the graves to where the scent of tea and candy was strongest. “Colm’s been acting right peculiar since we found this cloakpin yesterday.”

“Cloakpin? Like th’ one Miz Ida were wearing for dinner?”

“Naw, Colm bought her that with the coin we got lifting a few trinkets from the permanent residents around here.” She flashed a quick grin at the mole before furrowing her brow and explaining about the rabbit, the pin, and Colm’s queer reaction. “I’ve never seen him tuck his tail between his legs like that. You’d think the thing was a snake what come out and bit him.”

They stopped, and Tamarack took another sniff before scratching a few pawfuls of dirt away to reveal a wadded pile of peppermint. Mumma would probably tan her hide when she noticed the lot had gone missing, but this was too important to worry about backsides and their eventual whipping.

“But if it were a rabbit from th’ Abbey, woi would they be tossing him in th’ graveyard without asking?” Cobb wondered as he returned her shovel and set the lantern down.

“Expect he got offed by some fellows as don’t want no beast knowing he been offed.” The mole stiffened, and the vixen felt her own paws clench just a little tighter about her shovel.

Murder. Since that winter, when her paws had bled and arms ached for each victim buried in the frozen ground, the word had become more sinister, more cruel. What was this vile thing, then, creeping from outside the great stone walls and into her graveyard? It had terrified her big brother, and she wasn’t about to let it get away with that.

“I didn’t bury it none too deep,” she continued, forcing a smile. Cobb looked ready to bolt half the time as it was, best not worry the old digger too much. “Just so’s Colm wouldn’t notice. Figured we could take it to Brother Aloysius to see if he knows anything about it. He’ll be in his gatehouse about now.”

There was a note of disapproval in the mole’s tone as he set his claws and she set her shovel to the task. “Miz Tam, we’m got chores t’ do tomorrow. Oi doan’t think we’m should go runnins about hither an’ yon in th’ noight. What would Zir Emmerich an’ Miz Larch say?”

Tamarack pulled a face. “Expect they’d say that so long as I get to getting in the morning, I can do whatever I like.” She could feel Cobb’s raised brow more than see it, and stuck out her tongue. “This is all for Colm, Mr. Cobb.”

“Roight.”

“You’re right suspicious for a mole.”

“You be roight supicious for a fox.”

They paused in their digging, the vixen pursing her lips at the be-goggled mole. A beat passed in total silence before she felt a smile tugging at her whiskers. “I like you, Mr. Cobb. Ain’t too many beasts bold enough to steal from the Abbey gardens.”

“Oi was hungry.” He shrugged, and they resumed.

“That reminds me, though. Don’t forget to ask Grannie for the latest advert in the morning. Ms. Saskia’s coming, and Papa wants something fresh for the season.” She couldn’t help a wicked grin curling her lip up. “And Mr. Merritt’ll be coming, too.”

“Zir Merritt?”

“He’s the best! Sells all sorts of things as ain’t nobeast else’ll sell. I been saving up for one of his special pamphlets.”

“What be a spec– Oi think Oi found it.” The mole held the cloakpin up to the lantern’s light. The finely-crafted surface glittered, the faux-stonework of the Abbey etched in painstaking detail around the ruby gate. It had to be worth a few silver marks, maybe even a full gold coin. “You said it were a rabbit wearing th’ pin?”

“Aye. Looked like it for the ears. Couldn’t make out the face, though. Whoever done him in weren’t kind about the doing.” She plucked the cloakpin from Cobb’s paws and rubbed it clean on her slacks. “We’d best be off. Like you said, we got work tomorrow, and I think Mr. Noel’s planning on another campball game, too. Remy’s been holding her nose so high in the air since she beat us last week, I reckon she’ll be bending over backwards afore long.”

They refilled the shallow hole, and Tamarack pocketed the cloakpin before they returned to the house. The vixen replaced her shovel and sneaked back into the kitchen while Cobb fretted outside. Brother Aloysius was a generous bat, but he wouldn’t look kindly on the pair of them interrupting his research on the ‘historical ramifications of the changing morals of Mossflower country’. Something to butter him up, then…

Tamarack’s claws clicked across jars in the pantry until they came to her personal treasure. The candied beetles had cost her three graverobbing adventures, but the sugary confections had been worth every penny. She picked out five of the smaller beetles and placed them with the pin before returning to Cobb.

“Oi was wondering, Miz Tam,” Cobb began once they were on their way, “woi not just ask Zir Colm woi he were scared?”

“I tried! He won’t even admit there was a rabbit, though. Just told me to belt up, or he’d chop off my tail and give it to Ida for dusting the house. Whatever it is, Mr. Cobb, Colm ain’t speaking a word on it. And I can’t ask Mumma or Papa. What if it is something dangerous? It’ll be Colm in trouble instead of me. He’s in charge of the graveyard… Papa’ll raise old Cluny screeching about not reporting what happened what with all the beasts disappearing. We can figure this out ourselves, then tell the Abbot personal. We’ll just leave out where we found the pin.”

“Oi… doan’t think that’s th’ best–”

You!” Something latched onto her arm, its icy cold claws prickling the skin beneath her fur. Tamarack tried to wrench herself away, and the lantern went flying.

“Let go! Let go!”

“Oi didn’t do it!”

“Help me, please! They know. They know I know!”

Well, for a monster, it sounded rather desperate.

Tamarack Coffincreeper

April 21, 2011

Female Fox

“Oy, Colm!”

“What?”

“Something’s wrong with this grave.”

“Aye, you spent yesterday yapping instead of finishing the dig, scraggtail.”

Tamarack snatched up the nearest clod of dirt and chucked it at her brother’s head. He ducked into the grave he was digging. “There’s a body in here, you half-wit.”

A snort accompanied his reply. “Expect that’s quite the novelty in a graveyard, Tam.”

Resisting the urge to climb out of her hole and introduce Colm to the business-end of her shovel, the vixen shot back, “I mean there’s one here as ain’t supposed to be.”

Colm’s head appeared over the rim of his grave, a brow raised askance. “What are you on about now?” He pulled himself up and out before trotting over.

“I think it’s a rabbit.”

Pale saplings of bone rose at irregular intervals from the molehills of misshapen flesh and fur as the foxes stared down at the body – a garden fit for a grave. A mask of congealed blood, dirt, and insects hid its identity, but the long, floppy ears protruding from the top of the putrid mound were unmistakable.

“Who is it?” Colm wondered.

“Can’t rightly tell when he’s fixed himself up for a fancy do in Dark Forest, can I?” Without waiting for the older fox’s retort, Tamarack knelt to paw at the body.

Maggots, fur, cloak, and- “Here, now. What’s this?”

The vixen brushed away a beetle and wrenched the silver fastener from the rabbit’s cloak. It was in the shape of Redwall Abbey, a red gem set in place of the main gates. “What do you make of it?” she asked, standing and passing the curious piece of jewelry to her brother. “Think we could sell it?” Tamarack climbed out of the hole and dusted herself off as Colm rose and began cleaning the fastener with his pawkerchief. “I hear Sister Felso’s been sniffing around for something pretty as won’t turn too many heads on the streets. Looks like the abbey, so maybe she’ll… You listening to me, Colm?” She prodded her brother’s bony hip, but he did not move, did not even snap at her to quit. “What’s wrong, Co–Oy!”

Colm whirled on the spot and hurled the fastener back into the grave, eyes wide, ears flat against his head, and chest heaving. “Fill up that hole. Now!”

“What? But–”

“Forget about it! You forget about it and that rabbit. I mean… There ain’t no rabbit. Nothing to forget about. Get to filling, Tam.”

“W-what about a marker?”

“I said there ain’t nothing to mark!”

“I ain’t just going to forget seeing a body, Colm,” the vixen snarled. “We have to report this. I don’t want our graveyard to be no dumping ground to some maniacs. They’re like as not to rob half the graves we ain’t got to looting yet! And what if they come aft–Argh!”

Colm’s fist connected with her jaw, and the vixen performed a graceless half-twirl before tripping over a mound of dirt and flopping onto the ground.

“You will leave it be, Tamarack Coffincreeper! Put it out of your mind and don’t you even think about sticking your pointy little nose in problems as ain’t none of your concern.”

“Tch!” The vixen rubbed at her smarting jaw and sat up as Colm stalked back to the other grave, the foul stench of sweat, rot, and oil polluting his earthy-tobacco scent. Not likely. There was more than one way to mark a grave, and anything that scared Colm enough to set his tail bottlebrushing warranted a nose stuck well into the problem.